Reminiscences With Chief Lamidi Tolani
Although Chief Lamidi Tolani hails from Kwara State, he sees himself more as a northern Nigerian. The 80-year-old retired permanent secretary worked as a clerk in the Bank of British West Africa, Kaduna, now known as the First Bank of Nigeria. He had enro
You are 80 years old, how would you describe your journey on earth so far?
My journey on earth has not been full of roses. It is a combination of moments of sadness and happiness. My early stage in life was spent on the farm, up till when I was 16 years old. I also attended a Qur’anic school, which was privately organised through an informal education. After that, I was sent to a missionary school in Jebba South, known as United Missionary Society School (UMS), where I began my primary education and later left for the Baptist Day School in Minna, Niger State. I later proceeded to Barewa College, Zaria after completing my primary education. It was six years of sojourn in Zaria.
I had an experience as a clerk in the Bank of British West Africa, Kaduna, now First Bank of Nigeria, before I started pre-university education at the Nigerian College of Art and Technology, Zaria. I studied art subjects, including English Language, Literature, History and Geography. From there I went to the University of Lagos. I also got admission into the Institute of Administration, now Ahmadu Bello University, to read Law in 1962. I spent one year there and moved to the University of Lagos; not because I wanted to, but the Sardauna of Sokoto, the Premier of the Northern Region, said that all federal institutions must have representatives from the North; hence they took four of us there. I left the Law class with the intention of studying Law and Economics at the University of Lagos because that was what they told me. But unfortunately, when I got to Lagos, I only read Economics and graduated in 1965.
After my graduation, I joined the Northern Nigerian Government as an administrative officer and was posted to the Ministry of Establishment and Training. I was a recruitment officer. The government had some retainership agreement with Ford Foundation in America to develop economic planning capacity in the government, so all of us who majored in either Economics or Statistics were pulled together to the Ministry of Economic Planning. At that time, we took charge of the provinces of the North, and I was in charge of Borno, Bauchi and Adamawa. Every activity in respect of the three places in terms of information was always directed at me, especially as it concerned economic activities in schools, roads and other vital statistics required for the development of the area.
We studied under the Ford Foundation economists and statisticians. It continued like that until there was a coup in 1965, which was followed by the creation of states. By 1966 and 1967, I was posted to the NorthEast. In the Borno civil service, I grew from a planning officer till I became the chief planning officer and later rose to the position of permanent secretary. I was moved from Borno to Bauchi, where I spent about 12 years and became a career permanent secretary. I retired from the civil service in July 1986. At that time, I had already spent 9 years as a permanent secretary. When I saw that there was no prospect of moving to any position again, I retired voluntarily. After my retirement, I moved to Lagos and started a private consulting firm where we advised our clients on how to set up businesses. I also recruited staff for some states such as Kwara. I became the Commissioner for Finance in Kwara State during the military administration.
Can you share your most striking experience during your active years in service?
My most striking moment was my service at the Ministry of Economic Planning. At that time, the government took planning seriously, so our voice as planners struck like law within the planning sphere because nothing got done without clearance from the economic planning office. Invariably, commissioners, permanent secretaries and even governors would take my advice before taking any decision. I loved it, not because of the money, but I was satisfied with my legitimate earnings as a planner. There was no contractual incentive or reward because my colleagues in other ministries earned a lot and achieved many things. I had job satisfaction.
Can you compare the banking industry then with now?
There was enormous honesty in the banking system in those days. The managers, down to the lowest ranking officer, performed their functions with serious dedication, honesty and transparency. We didn’t usually request for anything before loans were granted. We strictly followed laid down rules, which were given by the British who were the managers. We didn’t also divulge secrets within the bank.
I remember the accounts of big Nigerians then, from the premier, down to other government officials with lower balances. There were never huge amounts of money in their accounts. In fact, many at times, the accounts, including that of Sir Ahmadu Bello, would enter red. Immediately we discovered that, we would notify them and they would pay money into the accounts. Also, if a certain huge amount of money was lodged into an account, we usually rejected it until the person proved the source of the money. That is lacking in our banking sector now. It strikes me more these days that banks will collect huge sums of money without verifying the source. The manager will just keep you in one corner of the bank, collect, count and get his or her own share.
Do you think we need another reform in our banking sector?
We need reforms in every aspect of our life as a country, more importantly, the banking sector. This is because once the banking sector is faulty, the society will be ruined. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the currency we have are a reflection of our societal products like houses and others. If the banking sector turns upside down, it will upset everything. We need serious reforms.
Some of your mates at the Barewa College would have made landmarks in their chosen careers. Can you remember some of them?
My Barewa days were one of my most momentous periods in life. I enjoyed it to the fullest. That was the place where I came in close contact with the core Hausa and Fulani, as well as people from other parts of Nigeria. People were admitted from wherever they resided. For instance, I was not admitted as a Kwara student but Niger because I did my primary school there. General Gowon was my senior in school.
Many of my mates have made it in the society. Some of them are General David Bamgboye, Dr Amuda Aluko, Senator Ayinla, Alhaji Adebayo, former commissioner of public complaints. They were my seniors. I cannot remember many of them. I was in the same room as Governor Alkali while Governor Alwali Kazir was my junior. Alkali was the one who submitted my name to be appointed commissioner in Kwara State. My best friends, up till now, are from the North. Muhammed Ibrahim, a onetime chairman of the First Bank and permanent secretary at different ministries in Kano State, was one of them. The chairman of Jaiz Bank was also my classmate in Barewa College. I have lost touch with some of them from the East, but there is one who played football. However, students from the eastern part of the country were not many because they got admission through other states. There was a particular Igbo guy who got admission as a Sokoto student because he lived there. Nigeria was so united that everybody accepted you as one of them wherever you were.
Chief Lamidi Tolani